Ethics, values, and moral humility in a changing world

Research fellow Peter Kurti in conversation with distinguished lawyer and bioethicist, Professor Margaret Somerville, discussing the challenges of doing ethics in the public sphere and of balancing respect for the autonomy of the individual against demands of protecting the wider public good.

When we make choices, we embrace one course of action to the exclusion of others. Increasingly, the choices we make about how to live are expressed in terms of asserting individual rights. We insist that the right we exercise in choosing must always be respected by others, and even upheld in law. But while they may express our own preferences and beliefs, the choices we make also have an impact on others, including the wider society and the common good. Making choices is never as simple as we might like to think.

In a world made more complex by advances in medicine, science, technology, how do we go about the business of choosing what is right and good, and how do we balance our own preferences against those of others when there is conflict? To what extent do we need to exercise ‘moral humility’ when making choices? And how do we ensure that individual choice is not exercised to the unjustifiable detriment of the common good?

Margaret Somerville is Professor of Bioethics at the University of Notre Dame Australia and Emerita Samuel Gale Professor of Law, Emerita professor in the Faculty of Medicine and Emerita Founding Director of the Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law at McGill University in Montreal. Professor Somerville is the first recipient of the UNESCO Avicenna Prize for Ethics in Science and was also the first woman in Canada appointed to a named chair in law. She is author of Bird on an Ethics Wire: Battles about Values in the Culture Wars (2015, McGill-Queen’s University Press).

Peter Kurti is Director of the Culture, Prosperity & Civil Society program. He is also Adjunct Associate Professor in the School of Law at the University of Notre Dame Australia, and Adjunct Research Fellow at the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture at Charles Sturt University.